in ideal romances the hero is constructed androgynously. Although the women were clearly taken with his spectacularly masculine phallic power, in their voluntary comments and in their revealed preferences they emphasized equally that his capacity for tenderness and attentive concern was essential as well. Chodorow’s theories seemed helpful because of their capacity to explain what I thought of as the twin objects of desire underlying romance reading, that is, the desire for the nurturance represented and promised by the preoedipal mother and for the power and autonomy associated with the oedipal father. (1991: 13-14)I’m still trying to understand why the hero who shows a capacity for ‘tenderness’ is ‘androgynous’, since this seems to me to be suggesting that a ‘masculine’ man would have a very limited emotional range. It could be that the heroes described by Radway shade into the alpha 'she-male' as described by Robin who:
finds a lot of alpha heroes bullying and condescending. Or cleverly disguised she-males, aka the alphas who drag the heroine off to their isolated mountain cabin, where they proceed to draw her a bubble bath, cook her a gourmet dinner, wash every dish *by hand*, and then empathetically anticipate her every emotional and sexual desire.Whatever sort of alpha she was describing, though, Radway got me thinking about mothers, psychology and the alpha hero. Then, in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women one of the authors suggests that ‘the romance maps out the first segment of the journey’ that ‘Everywoman’ makes ‘from ‘virgin to mother’ (Barlow 1992: 48) and the hero represents a ‘split-off portion of the heroine’s psyche which will be reintegrated at the end of the book’ (Barlow 1992: 49). Barlow associates the masculine traits within women with the male child:
If the heroine’s primary role in the myth serves to encourage us to cope with our fears, the hero’s is to provide us with the means of facing and accepting the angry, aggressive, sexually charged components of our personality that we have been taught to associate with masculinity. From childhood, males have more outlets for their aggressions – sports, horseplay, roughhousing [...] Females, on the other hand, are instructed from childhood to control, repress, or even split off their aggressive and erotic drives. (Barlow 1992: 49-50)So, is the hero a way for the reader to get in touch with her inner child, while the heroine, in transition from virgin to mother, represents the reader’s inner adult and (perhaps in the epilogue or a sequel where she’s a supporting character) inner parent? It’s all beginning to sound rather like transactional analysis and I’m extremely hesitant to analyse the genre this way, since I’m trained in literary criticism, not psychology. But the way the hero is described, both by Radway and in Dangerous Men did make me conclude that alpha heroes often seem rather like toddlers.
I know there are different opinions about exactly what an 'alpha' hero is, and the ways in which he differs from 'beta' and 'gamma' heroes. Some people distinguish between the true alpha and the ‘alpha jerk’, just as they distinguish between the assertive, ‘kick-ass’ heroine, and the ‘too-stupid-to-live’, ‘feisty’ heroine. But with that qualification made, when I thought about the alpha hero, as discussed in Dangerous Men, the image that came to my mind was that of a toddler. Maybe that’s because in Dangerous Men there's a lot of mention of how the alpha is 'tamed', and I've heard a lot about Dr Christopher Green’s Toddler Taming. Nonetheless, the process of the alpha hero’s development, as described by Krentz in Dangerous Men, does, it seems to me, resemble that of bringing up a child:
the heroes in the books undergo a significant change in the course of the story, often being tamed or gentled or taught to love, but they do not lose any of their [...] strength in the process. [...] The journey of the novel, many writers say, is the civilization of the male. (1992: 6)Toddlers, like alpha heroes, can be both immensely appealing and, simultaneously, incredibly irritating. They can be extremely strong, but they don’t always know how to control their own strength. While they may behave well in a very structured environment where they know the rules (such as nursery, or, in the case of the alpha hero his group of spies, or his band of warriors), they may act out in the presence of people from whom they want an emotional response. Sometimes they behave far, far, worse with the person they love most than they would with the people with whom they interact in the structured environment. In the case of the toddler, it’s not just because the staff are strict and the parents aren't (though this is sometimes the case), but because the child wants to know that he or she will still be loved and accepted despite bad behaviour, in other words, he or she wants to know that he/she is really and truly loved unconditionally. The parent has to show the child that he or she is indeed loved unconditionally, and that there’s no need to keep testing the boundaries.
Alpha heroes sometimes remind me of toddlers, still seeking the love of their ‘mother’ and attention-seeking by throwing tantrums and acting badly. In fact, quite a few of the alpha heroes really do have ‘mother issues’, with a mother who abandoned them, or some key female figure who has somehow betrayed them. They imprint on the heroine (rather like Konrad Lorenz's ducklings, though alpha heroes are a lot pickier about who they imprint on than a duckling is) and make her the focus of their desire, much as the toddler wants the love and approval of his/her parents. But, because the alpha hero wants to know he’s loved unconditionally (and he not infrequently doubts whether he’s actually deserving of love at all) he often mistreats the heroine. The heroine, like a good mother, forgives her toddler (though she may, like all mothers, feel irritation and occasionally slap or shout back). In the end the toddler, from being a terrible, almost monstrous, chaotic creature, is ‘tamed’. Just like the alpha hero.